HC Deb 09 June 1982 vol 25 cc200-3
32. Mr. Skinner

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next expects to meet other European Economic Community Ministers to discuss the operation of the Luxembourg compromise on voting; and if he will make a statement.

33. Mr. Jim Marshall

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps he intends to take to protect United Kingdom national intersts in the light of the European Economic Community of Ministers' decision to accept majority voting on the farm prices review.

35. Mr. Allan Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what action he proposes to take to safeguard the United Kingdom's essential interests in the light of the European Economic Community farm price review decision being taken other than by unanimity.

36. Mr. Spearing

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will raise the subject of the Luxembourg arrangements for decision-making at the council meetings of the European Economic Community.

Mr. Pym

As I informed the House on 26 May, I made a statement at the opening of the Foreign Ministers' meeting in Brussels on 24 May about the serious situation that has arisen as a result of the setting aside at the Agriculture Council on 18 May of the Community's established practice of taking decisions by consensus where important national interests are involved. I asked that there should be early discussions of these issues and the Council agreed to hold such a discussion on 20 June.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call first the four hon. Members whose questions are being answered.

Mr. Skinner

Now that the unprecedented decision has been made to shatter the Luxembourg compromise and as so many Common Market groupies are represented in the House through the Liberals and Social Democrats, Sir Henry Plumb, and in the other place, who want to see majority voting on all issues, not just on this one, what guarantee can the right hon. Gentleman give us that there will not be a repetition of that occurrence, other than by accepting the Labour Party policy of getting out of the Common Market and joining the world?

Mr. Pym

The treaty provides for consensus voting in some cases and majority voting in others. We adhere to that. The so-called Luxembourg compromise was the equivalent of a convention. It is not unknown even for conventions in the House sometimes to be broken. The fact that it was broken on this occasion is a serious matter. I have treated it as a serious matter, as I said in my original answer. I look forward to discussing the matter further with our partners on 20 June.

Mr. Marshall

When will the Foreign Secretary realise that the breakdown in the Luxembourg compromise means that the British Government are no longer able to protect our national interests? When will the right hon. Gentleman accept the logic of that and realise that withdrawal from the EEC is the only way that any British Government can protect our national interests?

Mr. Pym

The Government's policy towards the European Community is well known. The Labour Government made their attitude towards the Community well known. We do not underestimate the importance of what happened on 18 May. It is right for the Community and the Foreign Ministers to discuss together how that matter can be rectified. The decision-making procedure is a very important part of the Community or of any organisation.

Mr. Roberts

If the Secretary of State refuses to accept the need for us to withdraw from the Common Market, will he do something about the problem and take other retaliatory action against the Common Market, such as refusing to continue to pay some of our contributions until the matter is put right? Does the Secretary of State accept that this is just as much an attack on British sovereignty as the Falklands issue?

Mr. Pym

I regret to say that I disagree with everything that the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Spearing

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the consent of Parliament to Britain's adherence to the EEC, which was obtained on the White Paper terms of 1972, and the confirmation by the people in 1975, was based on the assumption and the advocacy of this veto, which has now disappeared? In view of that undoubted fact, are not the terms on which Britain joined the EEC now shown to be defective? Are not major constitutional issues raised in respect of our membership and the terms on which we joined?

Mr. Pym

I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman said. That assumption was a factor in the decision that we took in the early 1970s and during the referendum campaign. As the convention endured until last month, this is a serious breach. The right way to set about it is to discuss the matter fully with the other members. I hope that we can re-establish the so-called veto by one means or another. That is what I shall set out to do.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith

Does my right hon. Friend accept that in addition to the special position of the post-1966 entrants and their undoubted rights to rely on the continuance of the Luxembourg compromise, on the faith of which they adhered to the Community, there is also a substantial body of international legal opinion that believes that the Luxembourg compromise, although not enshrined in the treaty, is now subsumed into the law of the Community as a whole? Will my right hon. Friend press both those points on the Ministers of the member States?

Mr. Pym

I shall take careful note of what my right hon. and learned Friend has said. It is true that the so-called compromise was an agreement to disagree, because, even in 1966, the members of the Community were not agreed about it. It has been adopted since then as a convention. I am aware of the views that my right hon. and learned Friend has expressed, although it is also fair to say that a number of other lawyers in other countries would not put such a clear-cut view on it as my right hon. and learned Friend. I should not like to pretend that the task that faces me on 20 June will be easy, because there are different views. I am clear about the safeguard that the convention provides and its importance.

Mr. Heffer

As the Government stated clearly that they would fight the proposals on farm prices, which were to be linked with the budget, but accepted the farm price increases and a wholly unsatisfactory budgetary arrangement, what confidence can we have that the Government will stand firm on 20 June? Will the Government state that they will decide, if they cannot get what they want, to refuse to make any further contributions to the EEC or consider coming out of the CAP until there is a satisfactory solution in relation to both the future budget proposals and the Luxembourg compromise?

Mr. Pym

The hon. Gentleman confuses a number of matters. The farm price decisions were taken on 18 May. Those decisions are valid in Community law and have already come into force. There was no direct connection, apart from the fact that it was used on this occasion, between the procedure for taking decisions and the mandate for farm prices. The importance of what happened on 18 May is that it relates to the procedure in the Community. We shall fight to restore what appears to have been lost. I re-emphasise that originally it was an agreement to disagree. There never has been unanimity in the Community about that matter. The convention worked well for 16 years. I hope that we can re-establish it. I believe that we shall be able to do so. We shall discuss that matter on 20 June.

Sir Anthony Meyer

Is it not a generally recognised fact that the Government have made a pretty good job of defending British interests within the EEC, whatever the prevailing conventions? As we are members of that institution, and remain members of it, is it not in our interests that it should have effective decision-taking processes? Is it not therefore vital that the issue of the veto should be closely redefined to make sure that it is effective in defending vital national interests?

Mr. Pym

It is fair to say that the Government have been able to secure better arrangements with our Community partners than the Labour Government. I think that we have been able to achieve at least that. Will my hon. Friend remind me of the second part of his question?

Sir Anthony Meyer

Redefining the veto.

Mr. Pym

I do not think that I have anything further to add at this stage. I think that the actual definition of it may prove to be difficult, just as it was in 1966. This is what we are going to discuss on 20 June. I cannot say anything more in advance of the discussions. I did, however, make the point of expressing the British Government's view at the outset of the last Foreign Affairs Council. I have asked for a separate discussion on it at the next Foreign Affairs Council. It is on the basis of that request—because of the importance that we attach to it—that the discussion will take place.

Mr. Dalyell

Who runs British foreign policy? Is it the Foreign Office and the much-maligned Foreign Office civil servants, or is it Downing Street? Has the Foreign Secretary seen that the political editor of The Times has outlined in detail on the front page the very real rift that seems to exist between Downing Street and the Foreign Office and that Peter Jenkins in The Guardian talks of a diplomatic rump in Downing Street? Are these reports completely without foundation?

Mr. Pym

Whatever the answer to that question, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not run British foreign policy. I would not comment upon highly speculative pieces in the newspapers that are written from time to time for one reason or another. The answer is that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister charged me with responsibility for British foreign policy, for better or for worse. I do my best to fulfil that responsibility.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that as the substantial part of the fisheries resources of the EEC is located in United Kingdom waters, and as the Community had no policy on fisheries until the eve of United Kingdom accession, any agreement on a fisheries policy without the operation of the Luxembourg compromise would be a sell-out of our fishermen?

Mr. Pym

I know that negotiations on fisheries have been going on for a long time. It is an extremely important issue. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State in that Ministry are still involved in negotiations, which we hope to bring to a successful conclusion. We are acutely conscious of the importance of the industry to this country.

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